Worrying experts, COVID testing is declining nationwide. Where does Pa. fall? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

March 23, 2021 7:18 am

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With more U.S. residents, including many in Pennsylvania, getting vaccinated, COVID-19 testing has declined by a third over the last two months. And that’s a positive benefit wrapped in a potentially worrisome one, public health experts tell

On the one hand, the decline in testing mirrors declines in caseloads and shows Americans are now less fearful they’ll get the disease. On the other, that dramatic drop also could negatively affect  epidemiologists’ ability to spot and stem new surges of the deadly infection, months before enough of the population is vaccinated to reach herd immunity, Stateline reported.

“I’m worried about this blind spot starting to form,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Stateline. “We could be slapped with a really disappointing surprise.”

In Pennsylvania, state health officials announced 3,920 new cases as of March 21, with 23,630 new tests. The Health Department also announced Monday that a new mass testing site will open in Luzerne County today and stay in operation for a week, complementing long-term mass testing sites in in BlairDauphin and Delaware counties.

Officials said the Luzerne County site can accommodate up to 450 people a day, with the familiar nasal swipe test. It’s open to residents of other counties and no appointment is necessary.

“The virus is still present in our communities, which reinforces the need for continued testing across the state,” acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam said in a statement.

As Stateline notes, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that President Joe Biden signed earlier this month includes nearly $48 billion in assistance so that state and local health departments can ramp up testing. The law also calls for the development of a national, evidence-based strategy to help public health agencies with testing and the equally critical contact tracing, Stateline reported.

The need is real. Citing data compiled by Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center, the number of diagnostic COVID-19 tests administered has dropped significantly since the winter surge that ran from November through January and hit many parts of the country, including Pennsylvania, Stateline reported.

Testing performance also varied wildly from state.

Citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control dataStateline reported that Vermont conducted the most tests during a seven-day period in mid-March, at 10,302 tests per 100,000 people. Oklahoma, conversely, conducted the least, with 428 tests per 100,000 people. Pennsylvania conducted 2,205 tests per 100,000 people during that mid-March testing window.

Public health officials told Stateline that recent calls with the CDC have focused on the need to convince the public of the continued importance of testing, particularly for people with symptoms and unvaccinated people who may have been exposed to the virus.

“If we don’t do that messaging now we will set ourselves up for spikes and resurgence at this critical time when vaccines aren’t at 100 percent,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, who was on one of those CDC calls, told Stateline.

She added later that, “with the announcement of the vaccine, people are focused on that being the panacea for curing everything. I think people are just holding out to get a vaccine rather than get testing.”

But the need for testing won’t go away because it will be the admission ticket for “not only for the opening of schools, but for businesses, houses of worship, entertainment and sporting events,” Stateline reported. Freeman told Stateline she expects businesses likely will set up their own testing programs to encourage employees and customers to return.

For that to happen, testing has to be ubiquitous, she concluded. And so far, that’s not happening.

“We still haven’t made testing as easy as it should be for the common person,” she told Stateline. “There should be a larger plan that puts testing in the hands of people wherever they go.”

John L. Micek | Editor

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Abuse survivors have been dealt another setback, after Republicans in the state Senate said they won’t take up an emergency reform measureElizabeth Hardison, with an assist from Stephen J. Caruso, reports.

A new solar energy initiative aims to supply state government with 50 percent of its power by 2023, Cassie Miller and Stephen Caruso report.

State Sen. Mike Regan, R-Yorkwas hospitalized Sunday after a motorcycle accident, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Pennsylvania’s police departments made more than 20,000 marijuana arrests during the pandemic, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, Antoinette Kraus of the Pennsylvania Health Action Network explains how the new COVID-19 relief plan will deliver expanded healthcare to Pennsylvania residents. And J. Patrick Coolican, editor of our sibling site, the Minnesota Reformer, explains how the pandemic has exposed the flaws of American individualism.

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

Mobile vaccine clinics are being used to reach Philadelphia’s most vulnerable residents, the Inquirer reports.
Published reports that Pittsburgh-area police officers participated in a private Facebook page where racist and transphobic views were aired are sparking calls for change, the Post-Gazette reports.
Amusement park operators say they’re better prepared than ever for another season amid COVID-19, PennLive reports (paywall).
Lancaster County school officials sent some teachers home to teach virtually after they reported vaccine side effectsLancasterOnline reports (paywall).
Members of Allentown City Council vowed to ‘wage war’ on slumlords, leading to a shouting match with one landlord, the Morning Call reports.
The state House has passed legislation clarifying the order of succession when a sitting district attorney resigns. The bill impacts the looming departure of Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, who is set to resign Thursday, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
The York Daily Record examines whether the smell of weed is enough to search a car in Pa. (paywall)

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Brian Stidham (@brianstidham)

Twenty-two more Philadelphia elementary schools will reopen next month, WHYY-FM reports.
Pennsylvania has eased its mask mandate for vaccinated people, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
Pennsylvania’s utility shut off moratorium ends soon. Here’s what you need to do if you’re impacted, USA Today’s Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau reports.
City officials in Washington, Pa. are taking applications for a proposed police citizens review boardthe Observer-Reporter reports.
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, tells PoliticsPA that he’s mulling a 2022 gubernatorial bid  this is not unexpected.
Three out of four congressional special elections are rated ‘solid Democrat,’ by Roll Call.
Killing the filibuster is the new litmus test for Democratic candidates, Politico reports in a story that mentions Pa. Lt. Gov John Fetterman and  state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, who both are seeking the Democratic nod for U.S. Senate next year.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m, the Senate gavels in at 1 p.m. Here’s a look at the day’s committee action.
In the Senate:
9:15 a.m., Senate Chamber:
 Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
10 a.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Special Committee on Election Integrity & Reform
11 a.m, Senate Chamber: Education Committee
11:30 a.m, Senate Chamber: State Government Committee
12 p.m.:, Senate Chamber: Health & Human Services Committee
12:30 p.m., Senate Chamber: Judiciary Committee
Off the Floor: Aging & Youth Committee
Off the Floor: Appropriations Committee
Off the Floor: Rules Committee
Off the Floor: Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
In the House:
9 a.m., 523 South Irvis: 
Human Services Committee
10 a.m., G50 Irvis: Aging & Adult Services Committee
10 a.m., B31 MC: Commerce Committee
10 a.m., 205 Ryan: Consumer Affairs Committee
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: Transportation Committee
Call of the Chair: Appropriations Committee

Gov. Tom Wolf
 holds a 12:30 p.m. virtual event with CeaseFirePa to advocate for gun violence reduction.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
7:30 a.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Gerald Mullery
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Bob Mensch
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. John Sabatina
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Joe Hohenstein
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Art Haywood
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Emily Kinkead
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Tom Mehaffie
8:30 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Joe Webster
5 p.m.: 
Reception for Rep. Tarah Toohil
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Sen. Dan Laughlin
5:30 p.m: Reception for judicial candidate Jeff Engle
6 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Sue Helm

Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out an absolutely nauseating $31,350 today.

Heavy Rotation.
I’ve been down a classic jazz rabbit hole these last couple of days. So here’s an entire playlist of old school cuts from the legendary Blue Note label to get your Tuesday morning off to a cool start.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
snapped a losing skid, blanking Columbus 3-0 Monday nightThe ‘Canes’ Dougie Hamilton extended his points streak to 12 games with the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.